On Wednesday morning (Aug 23rd) Pal Arinsal in Andorra was looking like its usual breathtaking summertime self. The whole region had experienced very high temperature and zero rain for weeks, if not months. The downhill track was baked, hosepipes were at the ready to water it and keep the dust down to a minimum.
But (quite literally) a storm was brewing. Mid afternoon and it all kicked off. High winds and torrential rain turned the perfectly sculpted track into a river! The heavy rain created a mini flash flood that gouged and ripped the track apart. Deep gullies appeared everywhere, it was not looking good.
Then the storm passed through and by some kind of miracle overnight the organizing team managed to fill the holes and make things good again all ready for practice on the following morning. One of the best performances of the weekend! And then the sun came out.
For the INTENSE Factory Racing team we just had two riders left standing, as both Aaron Gwin and Seth Sherlock still remain injured. It was all down to Dak Norton and Joe Breeden, and with both riders looking in good shape, confidence was high.
With the new race format neither Joe or Dak were protected riders, meaning that in Friday’s qualifier both had to finish in the top 60 to move forward to Saturday’s semi, and then hopefully the final. Dak put in a stormer of a run in 6th, but for Joe it didn’t go so well, 84th and he was out.
“I struggled to find the speed in Andorra and was gutted not to get to race in the finals. I need to re-set psychologically, and come into the next round with a fresh mindset and have a bit more fun!” Joe Breeden
Mixed fortunes for the team then, Dak was in good shape though… but trouble was once again brewing. More storms were forecast for Saturday afternoon, race day, with the organizers and teams once again having to change their plans. Semis were scrapped, it was straight into finals with all 60 riders, starting roughly at 9am. That meant a 5am start for most, with enough time to get up, eat, get to the venue, a quick practice and then race.
More changes. First it was on, then it was off (postponed), then it was back on again, but not at 9am as planned, this time it was back to the middle of the day. You have to remember that all of this information was having to be communicated to hundreds (if not thousands if you include the spectators) of people scattered all over an Andorran mountain! The fact that the race happened at all was a bit of a miracle.
There of course would be another twist to this race. With riders having to mentally reset not once, but twice, being ‘in the zone’ was crucial. Some riders were up for it, others not. Greg Minnaar came down and his ‘home crowd’ went crazy as he went into first place. He didn’t stay there long, as Frenchman Thibaut Daprella found speed from nowhere in the last woods section to take the hot seat, and eventually the win.
With ten riders to go things started to change. It had already been super windy at the top of the course, at 2363m and exposed it was pretty wild, then the rain came. It was greasy and slippy for large sections of the track (just ask Andreas Kolb), so it was weird to see plumes of dust in the wooded sections where the rain had not got to yet penetrated. Average speed dropped, the race was over, an anti-climax. Dak stood no chance. Fifty-fourth place and zero points. It was a race weekend to forget.
“Looking back at the weekend, everything I could control, it went great. Unfortunately the weather had different plans. It’s difficult to see top guys consistently getting the short end of the stick with the current format. Looking forward to more fair racing in the future.” Dakotah Norton
There’s no let up for the team, as they are already in Loudenvielle (French Pyrenees) for the next round of the World Cup this weekend. Race day is Sunday (Sept 3rd), so tune in.